Sunday, March 23, 2008

Starbucks: A New Forum

The Ancient Forum of Rome

The Roman Forum, that ancient mall, was a locus of both ideas and commerce. Before there were licensing and private ownership of retail space and branded merchandise, those places where people congregated for the exchange of goods became places for the exchange of ideas.

If today's mall seems sterile by comparison with the old world shops of lower Manhattan, London or Lima, perhaps it is because the discourse of the market has been crowded out or shouted down by the clamour of the mass merchants.

From the genius of Howard Schultz came the vision of Starbucks (SBUX) as a "third place," a haven from both office and home, where people could come together to share a latte and a few words. This vision was not so much futuristic as nostalgic. He came upon it in an Italian espresso bar, that ubiquitous element of the streetscape where men stand to sip coffee by day and beer by night ("barista" is Italian for "bartender"). Sensing our longing for a few subversive minutes away from responsibility, he created a place where $3 could buy a consistently good cup of coffee and fifteen minutes of vacation.

So it is no accident that a Starbucks store has almost no advertising. Just as white space draws attention to the words on the page, so does a muted environment promote respite and the free flow of ideas.

The place speaks for itself. Its message seems amplified because it is understated and authentic.

See Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, by Howard Schultz and Dori Jones Yang

Schultz fears that stores are losing their authentic aroma and the brand is losing some of its unique charm. See this BBC video clip: Starbucks Plans 20,000 shops.

For other posts related to Starbucks, Authenticity, Retail Lifecycle Management (RLM), and other topics of interest, click the links on Index of Content on This Site in the border column to the right of these posts.

January, 2008 update.
Note that Howard Schultz is back behind the counter. See this press release and a Letter to Shareholders.

February, 2008 update. See our more recent post, Too Many Starbucks?
See also our post Design is Destiny about the challenge of designing an effective chain restaurant platform or format

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